'Wait. This is not a love story.' A very 2023 recap of The Notebook.

I'm 14 and sitting in my brother's room, because the Xbox in here is the only way for us to watch a DVD. 

It's summer, and my sister, my best friend and I have spent an appalling amount of time in front of the television. Today, though, we have a new movie. And it's not just any movie, it's a new release. Like $7.95 from the video shop, and I can practically hear Mum yelling about late fees already. 

My friend insists we watch The Notebook because it's a beautiful love story. I'm hesitant. Love stories are lame and what about watching Anchorman again? I'm told it's really sad and I'll probably cry, which seems unlikely. 


Then The Notebook begins. 

It isn't long until my friend is heaving. Loud, uncontrollable sobs that feel odd given this isn't a true story and everyone generally seems to be doing fine. 

But right at the end, in the last few minutes of the movie, I mumble that I need to go to the bathroom. In there alone, I cry. If anyone had asked me to explain why, I wouldn't have a clear answer, but it would be something about old people and love and life happening and a good Southern gentleman.

Of course, I don't admit to the crying. I behave just like I did when I was 7 and watched Airbud for the first time - unaffected on the outside, but profoundly moved on the inside.  

I don't watch The Notebook again until I'm 32, and HOLY NO. It's a wildly different film in 2023. 

You guys. This is not a love story. This is the story of a woman who chose the wrong man. 


We open with an old woman, who I recognise immediately as the scary lady from The Skeleton Key

She's visited by an old man who insists on reading to her, even though, like, she might have had other plans that day.

From this point, we oscillate between two storylines: the first - about Sad Old People - takes place in this aged care facility, where the woman has dementia and the man is reading her the story of two young lovers. The second - about Hot Young People - is the story of those lovers.


Let's start with the Hot Young People. 

It's the summer of 1940. We're at a carnival somewhere in the South, although it doesn't matter where exactly, and we meet Noah (played by Ryan Gosling). He's wearing a beret, which says 'I'm poor but not poor in an ugly way,' and pause because he's spotted a thing he likes. 

And when I see a thing, that means I own it. Image: Binge. 


Its name is Allie (Rachel McAdams). She’s on the bumper cars, smiling, and he likes its face very much. It has perfect skin and teeth and hair and it looks happy and carefree. 

When she gets off the bumper cars, Noah is lurking and asks her to dance. Umm... sir. With all due respect, we're in the middle of a carnival. No one is dancing. There is no dancefloor, only rides. She says no because he clearly has no sense of social norms.

He respects her boundaries, because when a woman says no it's important to listen, and that's the end of the story. 

Except of course it's not. 

Allie goes on the Ferris wheel with another man who politely asked her to do a contextually relevant activity, and Noah stares at them from the ground. He then launches himself onto her seat and begs her to go out with him, despite knowing only two things about her: a) that she has a beautiful face, and b) that she has no interest in him whatsoever.

Everyone starts yelling for this strange man to get off the Ferris wheel because they've all paid for their tickets and also he's being annoying, so he hangs off the frame of the ride and says he'll only get off when Allie agrees to a date. To clarify: he is currently hanging on to a public attraction at a carnival with one hand and threatening to fall to his death if this random woman won't go out with him. 


Eventually she says yes because she doesn't want to be responsible for killing an odd, intense stranger at this family-friendly carnival. 

Mate. There are children around. Image: Binge. 

We flash straight to the next scene (so we never learn how Noah actually got down from the Ferris wheel, but I can only imagine it was undignified), and yeah, Noah has somehow spotted Allie walking down the street. 


Minding her own business. Trying to live her life without a relentless male gaze.

He's like "how about that date?" and she's like, "wot no I only agreed to that because you were hanging from a Ferris wheel," but Noah. Isn't. Done. 

"You don’t know me," he says, "but I know me," and that's the least convincing pickup line I've literally ever heard. 

"When I see something that I like, I gotta have it," he explains, but that 'something' is a human woman who has politely told you to please go away. 

All. He. Knows. About. Allie. Is. That. She. Likes. Dodgem. Cars. And. Ferris. Wheels. Do you understand?

He somehow tricks her into going to the movies on a double date, because coercion and harassment are romantic ways to start a relationship. In the cinema, he stares at her as she eats popcorn and with all due respect you're too much. 

They decide to walk home together, because by this point Allie has given up on asserting her boundaries. Noah asks what she does for fun, and it's like umm she tried to go to a carnival but then you threatened to end your life. So. 

After a two-minute conversation, where Allie talks about doing tutoring and music lessons, Noah is disappointed. It doesn't sound very "free," and he's decided that she's some kind of free spirit? Because she was laughing on the dodgem cars??


Obviously, Noah makes Allie lie in the middle of the road to be more... free. 

Being run over by a car is edgy. And romantic. Image: Binge. 

Here, Allie says she likes to paint. Because women are allowed 1 x hobby in movies, and it’s usually painting. Because it's non-threatening. It couldn’t be reading, for example, because then she might read some feminist theory and that would be a problem. Plot-wise. 


They end up dancing in the street and suddenly, they're madly in love. 

We see them being inseparable. Highly sexual. They argue, and Allie often hits or pushes Noah which is illegal love because love is passion and passion is conflict. 

They go to the beach and Allie demands Noah call her a bird which feels bizarre. 

Listen: Mamamia's comedy podcast Cancelled about The Notebook. Post continues after audio.

 But not everything is perfect. Allie’s parents are worried because Noah is poor, and being poor is gross and possibly contagious. Allie's also going to New York for college, and it hasn't occurred to anyone that a) poor people are allowed to go to New York, b) they can visit each other, and c) long-distance relationships are a thing. 

One night, Noah takes Allie to a dilapidated house that he wants to renovate one day. They're about to have sex when we learn Allie's parents have sent the police out looking for her, probably because she's a teenager who's missing late at night and she's at high risk of catching poor. 

Her parents yell she's "NOT TO SEE THAT BOIII, HE'S TRASH," and Noah, in a rare moment of clarity, considers that perhaps this relationship isn't going to work. After all, he mostly fell in love with Allie because he liked observing her on carnival rides, and now she's going to college where she won't be able to do cool, fun things like lie down in the middle of the road for no reason. 


Maybe I should just accost another woman on a Ferris wheel. Image: Binge. 

When he suggests perhaps they break up, Allie hits him and pushes him against his car. At this point I feel sorry for Noah because he keeps getting assaulted. 

The next day, Noah learns Allie and her family have left their summer house and gone back home. He regrets their fight so takes a completely normal, not at all over-the-top course of action: he writes her letters every day for a year. 



That might be fine. If she ever responded. But surely, once you've written 206 letters to a woman you are technically no longer in a relationship with - without hearing back - you hesitate before writing the 207th. 

Imagine getting text messages from an ex every day for a year it would be so annoying. 

Miraculously, Noah eventually stops writing, and decides instead to join the army. There is a <1 minute scene of him at war and his best friend dies and no one ever mentions it again. 

At the same time, Allie becomes a war nurse. She has a patient named Lon (played by James Marsden) who is the most injured man ever to war. He asks her out and I don't want to be rude, but. 



You need to do less flirting and more... healing. Physically. 

But somehow, Lon recovers from having broken every single bone in his body, and finds Allie. They fall in love and he is kind and unproblematic. When he proposes, however, it's Noah's face that pops into Allie's mind. 

During her wedding dress fitting, Allie sees a photo of Noah standing in front of the fully renovated house they'd spoken about and she faints. She tells Lon she has to 'sort some business' (of the penis variety), and randomly mentions to him, "I don't paint anymore." 


"You should paint," he says. And yeah, Allie. If you want to paint, you can paint. It's not your partner's job to make you paint. And maybe you actually don't want to paint that much. Which is also fine. 

Allie turns up unannounced at Noah's house and runs over his fence, which feels rude and also reinforces the stereotype that women are terrible drivers. 

He takes her out on a rowboat where they're surrounded by swans (because birds = freedom = flying home but also leaving your nest? Unclear), and it suddenly starts raining. 

"WHY DIDN'T YOU WRITE ME?" Allie yells. It's awkward because he did, to the point where he really should've been arrested, but her mum stole them from the letterbox. 

"It wasn't over," he says. "It still isn't over." And then they kiss in a sexy way and have sexy sex and we learn that Ryan Gosling is RYAN GOSLING which is honestly a shock.

You're literally the worst. But then your shirt gets wet and things... change. Image: Binge. 


They won't stop having sex which feels disrespectful given Allie's fiance... exists. While Allie's painting topless, her mother arrives and insists she has something to show her. 

Did she hide Noah's letters from her daughter? Yes, absolutely. Has she told Lon where Allie is? Obviously. But quiet. 

Because Allie's mum wants to show her... a poor person. 

At the lumberyard, she points out a man she used to love, who she didn't end up with. 

'Mum this is a... terrible lesson.' Image: Binge. 


Ma'am that man looks perfectly happy and is probably wondering why he's being ogled at when he's just trying to make an honest living. 

Allie knows she needs to see Lon, so packs her things to leave Noah's house. They have a very passionate fight where Noah says it's not going to be easy, it's going to be really hard, and they're going to have to work at this every single day but he wants to do that because he wants her.

And in spite of everything - the Ferris wheel and the lying in the middle of the road and the yelling and the 365 letters - I am shamefully, exceptionally moved.


He loves her, in a problematic, 1940s way. 

Allie goes to see Lon, who is gracious and forgiving and undoubtedly the man she should choose. 

Instead, she returns to Noah, who is, of course, the old man reading the old woman (Allie) their story. Old Allie's dementia subsides for a moment and she recognises him, which is not really how late-stage dementia works but I'll allow it. 

No one knows, Allie. No one knows. Image: Binge.


I feel sick with emotion for the last 20 minutes of the movie because love and time and memory and old people. 

Allie and Noah die holding hands and I'm sobbing. Howling. My dog is certain there is an emergency. But the emergency is simply that I am profoundly moved by even the most problematic of love stories - love stories that shouldn't really be love stories at all. 

In 2023, The Notebook is about a woman who chose the wrong man. Who misinterpreted obsession for admiration and conflict for passion. She left a very lovely Lon with whom she could converse and socialise and who was patient and understanding, for Noah who was just quite odd, all things considered. 

The modern moral of the story is: if a man launches himself upon a Ferris wheel, you can call the police. Because it's dangerous and annoyingand has precisely nothing at all to do with love.

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on Instagram. She co-hosts Mamamia's comedy podcast Cancelled, and you can listen to the episode on The Notebook on Apple or Spotify

Feature image: New Line Cinema.

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